tv Q A CSPAN July 15, 2013 6:00am-7:01am EDT
he was imagining a future in which all of this fallow land would be rejuvenated for the purpose of making energy and fuels out of canola and sophia: and other crops. he said there could be an unwinding where we go back to something more like the 19th century with each town and homestead making its own energy as it -- as it happened before the industrial age. and that -- the unwinding which i never heard in that complex stuck with me. dean price's eloquent voice. but what it said to me was something more about the teacher. it resonated in my sense about the things that used to hold americans together. structures, institutions, social ties have frayed, have begun to come undone. that is the underlying theme. enough of the nuance resonance phrase.
it's not a policy book. it does not tell you the ten things wrong with america and how to fix them. it's more like a novel in nonfiction form and it has some poetry to it. >> do you remember the day or the moment? >> it was in baghdad with my friend who was in with "the new york times". we were looking at a couple of contractors out of a green zone, cafe after eating cheese burgers. he turned to me and said, you know, we're just not that good anymore. and it really struck me, with full force. i knew exactly what he meant. i didn't know how or why our institutions kept failing there. every domestic institution that
we counted on were domestic banks, the auto manufacturers, seemed to be in a state of collapse. then there's a big story of generation-long process of the corrosion of our institutions, the institutions that used to support the aspirations of ordinary people like dean price. it no longer works. people feel more and more alone. a big subject. it doesn't come all at once. it really began for me when i was watching iraq implode. >> what year was that? >> 2003 to 2007. that moment was probably be about 2006 when you're getting close to the rock bottom. >> three main characters -- >> tammy tomlin?
>> yeah. >> how did you select them? take dean first. >> i ran across him by accident. i hadn't figured it out. wasn't looking for him. i was writing a piece for a congressman who had a short but interesting career in congress elected in 2006, in 2010 from southern virginia. his office introduced me to a guy who had america's first biodiesel truck stop, a claim to flame in martinsville, virginia. and 30 seconds on the phone with the proprietor, dean price, was enough to convince me to go down there and not just interview him, but go down repeatedly stay in his house. get to know his family.
right around north carolina which is south of the state line. and he has a completely american type, entrepreneurial connected to the land, but a visionary with a lot of ideas knocking around in his head. and, yet, be willing to let me intrude on him to that extent that he was. so dean price became the first person who i thought this is a big enough story -- a man who got chain of truck stops that failed and in a region that's failing, tobacco textiles have abandoned him, have gone, not much left. he sees a kind of rebirth of the land in biofuel and biodiesel. that's what he is -- he's done. he's become like a johnny apple seed spreading the word around
north carolina for biofuels so that struck me as a big enough story that it could keep going. >> how old is he today? where does he live or how is he doing. >> he's turning 50 and i know how that feels. on u.s. 220 where all of the truck stops used to be. he's had unbelievable setback, personal bankruptcy, business bankruptcy. really dark times when it seemed like his biodiesel projects is going to fail. the partnership dissolved. he keeps coming back in this resilient never quit way. and try to get school systems around north carolina county by county to use waste restaurant oil that he collects in all of the fast food joints and barbecue projects to make biodiesel for the school buses to save money and it's good for the environment and it's a win-win-win as he likes to say.
that's what he's doing. it's hard but he has not quit. there's an inspirational story. >> how did you find tammy thomas and who is she? >> she's a black woman in youngstown, ohio. she's lived her whole life in youngstown. her life has coincided with the collapse of youngstown. a big steel making city. and starting in '77, five years with breathtaking speed, the entire steel industry left youngstown leaving, you know, 50,000 jobs taken away from a rather small community. she grew up a heroin addict and she cared for her mother in a way more than her mother was able to care for her. she told me the story of trying to stay awake as a little girl
while her mother would smoke in bed so that she could wait for her mother to fall asleep and then take the cigarette out of her hand and put it out. she was really raised by her great grandmother who took her to work where the great grandmother cleaned houses of rich white people in youngstown, the steel barons. and tammy developed this sort of tenacity and a sense of wanting to prove people wrong who doubted her. she got pregnant at 15. and her granny cried and said you've broken my heart and tammy determined this would not be her education. she graduated from high school, raised three kids by herself, holding down one of the last good blue collar jobs in youngstown working at a gm autoparts factory. for 20 years, she was on the assembly line doing the same thing day after day.
and then just when she was getting close to retirement, the company declared bankruptcy and took almost all of its american jobs to mexico. and that was the end of one part of tammy's life. >> how old is she today and what is she doing today? >> so i think she is now 47. all of the characters in the book are of a roughly ten-year age cohort, from the late -- bosh in the late 50s to the late 60s. because the unwinding covers this past generation from the late '70s to the present. so i wanted characters whose adult lives coincided with that period. she's in youngstown. she's a community organizer. she remade herself into that after losing her asemily line job trying to power the young residents while the city has been in a death spiral to get things like vacant houses torn down by the city. to get better grocery stores
around the city, basic things of life. >> how did you find her? >> unlike dean price, i was looking for someone like her. i wanted find a woman in the rust belt. someone from the rust belt because the industrialization has been one of the biggest and most painful occurrences of this past generation. so asking people who knew ohio, who knew the industrial midwest, i suddenly, you know, came upon this name tammy thomas and she was not quite so quick to take me up as dean price was. but over a long period of visits to youngs town, i got to know her and she would drive me around the east side where she grew up and said that used to be my elementary school. that was my mother's house. that was a peach orchard. >> jeff conton? >> as soon as i heard the rough outlines of his biography, i
knew i wanted to have him in my book. you can't write about what happened to america in the last generation without taking washington into account. when he was an undergraduate of the university of alabama, he heard a young senator named joe biden give a speech which was a dazzling speech and he attached his ambitions to joe biden and told biden, i'm going to -- if you run for president, i'll be there with you. he thought he would ride that horse to the white house. he was involved in biden's '88 campaign which ended badly in a certain scandal. and over the years, he continued to work for biden but was increasingly disillusioned.
biden was not, to say the least, a nurturing boss. it turned into a transactional washington relationship, what he was up to, what was in it for me. conton left government service and became a lobbyist. that's part of why i was interested in him because the revolving door is basically what it means to be in washington. he made a lot of money with a prominent lobbying firm here in washington during the boom of lobbying of the last 15 years and lost the lobby in the financial crisis in 2008 and the reconciliation of all of the characters in the book. he came back in the government as the chief of staff to the senator who replaced biden. two years, kauffman and conton made it their mission to impose serious reform on wall street coming out of the financial crisis. to try to reinstate something
close to glass eagle and to break up the banks if they got beyond a certain size and none of that came to pass. but there's a lot of integrity in the fight. in the end, conoton who's just over 50 decided he had enough of washington and he proceeded to burn every bridge he had to this city by telling his story in his own memoir and to me. now he lives in savannah, georgia. >> the structure of this book,
i counted ten side characters. not characters, mostly well known people. you give about five or six pages to them. oprah winfrey, sam walton, colin powell. jay-z. newt gingrich, elizabeth warren. why? what's that supposed to be? >> the structure of the book was difficult.
it was crucial i get it right. to tell the story in a panoramic way but also intimately. i needed the main characters but i needed to show what was happening to the top of society, among the vip celebrities influencing parts of our cultures. from politics, there's newt gingrich who more than any other single figure, created the toxic atmosphere of the politics we're used to now in america. >> found this moment, not this specific moment, but the idea in your book and get you to comment on
this. >> i help to pay in donations for conservation that the national zoo asks for. they're on permanent loan. and they'll grow to be much, much bigger, ten feet long. and the second thing was a local corporation, came to washington and i went out the fly down with
the two dragons, i thought this was going to be one of the highlights of my career. and they were in the kind of bags you carry sneakers in. they were -- they were much younger than this. and what they had done is taken the dragon, 18 inches long at that time, and put them in a cheese cloth bag, tied the bag shut so they could breathe through the cheese cloth. they thought it was asleep. dropped them into -- one each in these two bags, zipped them up, nike or reebok bags and i arrived and the guy said, here, you carry yours. and i'm sitting there carrying a como doe monitor or a komodo dragon. i got down here and they took them out -- they're very, very strong. >> 1994, december, right before he became speaker at the atlanta zoo. why did -- what's relevant to that zoo thing with newt gingrich. >> i mean, that reminds me of
the newt gingrich when he was 8 or 9 years old. when he went to the when he was fascinated by dinosaurs and animals. he came out wondering why there's no zoo in harrisonburg. went to the parks department on his own and said i think there should be a zoo. that made the front page of the local paper. you can see the boyish enthusiasm in that clip. other sides to gingrich that are darker. there's a line in my portrait of him. there's ten celebrity port rateses, each based on their own writings, their own work and
lack wanting, -- their own language. he was so grown up at 9, the boy who would grow up to seem 9 at 50 seemed 50 years old at 9. the famous "new york daily news" cry baby front page of newt gingrich, something out of control about him. he said whatever he came to mind. he was volatile. he was hugely ambitious. he came to congress in '78 not to build it up but to tear it down. to rebuild the republican party from the rubble. he did that. he succeeded beyond any expectation. he used c-span brilliantly. c-span came to congress the year gingrich came to congress. he performed for the cameras and developed a following and used the cameras to start the -- to
do damage to the -- to tip o'neill and the democrats. and eventually became speaker. but he became speaker of an institution that had been so polarized by tactics like his that it ended up -- it ended up consuming him like rose pierre in the french revolution. that's why gingrich is in the book as kind of a signature representative of the world of politics. >> video of a man named robert ruben. let's watch. >> i don't know if you have it two ways, pulling the levers or asleep at the switch. i think this is about as we try to recover from this calamity, i'm not so sure the responsibility. you are not a garden variety board member. you're a chairman executive committee.
you can characterize it. to most, the chairman executive committee member on the board, $13 million a year guarantees leadership and responsibility. mr. ruben assumed responsibility. said it was the honorable thing. i think mr. ruben -- mr. prince, when he resigned said it was the honorable thing to do. i think my point is that leadership and responsibility matters. >> i agree with that. the executive committee is misconstrued in that comment. it was a formal administrative apparatus in the institution nothing to do with ones role in the function of the institution. i did feel in '07 because of all of the problems -- it was because of all of the problems developed. i felt in '07 i should not get a bonus, not to the reasons you're alluding to. >> that's the financial crisis inquiry committee.
that's the leader there. ruben is the democrat. >> he comes from the world of finance as well as government. i see him as a talented and much admired and in many ways successful figure in both worlds who didn't understand that the wall street that was his career is becoming more and more corrupt institution in the last year he was there at city group. the difference in wall street and the country that he thought could be harmonized, especially in the clinton white house and treasury department, were pulling in opposite directions. they were opposed to each other. he didn't see that. and in that clip, what he senses is a man who cannot grapple with the extent to with which the world that made him and where he
thrived and succeeded wildly is no longer, you know, a productive or an ethical or an -- you know, a part of society that added value to americans. it had taken value away from americans and he couldn't face that. so certain pride in him that i think is disguised a little bit by his humility is always self-e facing. but beneath that there's a real pride that would not say i was responsible. and even alan greenspan said i was responsible. >> we'll go back to the clip again. this is the $15 million he made every year after he was in government? >> yes. >> what job at that point? >> the chairman of the executive committee of citigroup. he's trying to claim it's a relatively insignificant position that had no day-to-day responsibilities. it may not have been. the voice, the judgment, was so
important to sandy weill that he was willing to pay an enormous sum to have ruben on hand. maybe ruben wasn't paying much attention while citigroup was making billions of dollars in collateralized debt obligations that were going to blow up and some people couldn't see it blowing up. hand's on the lever or asleep at the switch, neither is a good thing to have been. 50 go back to where robert ruben worked before he came to government as secretary of the treasury. >> he was at goldman sachs until clinton made him head of the economic council and secretary of the treasury. in his years at goldman sachs,
he rose from being newly hired to being one of two co-chairmen. he presided over the huge growth in the wealth and power of goldman in its role in derivatives, trading, fixed income, and other areas that seem like huge growth areas and they were but also have the bombs ticking away inside them that maybe wasn't as evident at the time. he was a democrat. he's part of what brought the democratic party in wall street closer together in the '80s. part of the story of the book is how manufacturing disappeared from places like youngstown. it was replaced by financial services. that and silicon valley were the two engines of wealth. they did not create broad wealth. they enriched a few a lot and some somewhat and left most out of the door. for ruben, wall street and washington should work together and he brought the democratic
party closer to wall street. and i think in the end, it led to many americans saying what's the difference between the two parties if they both are so dependent on the wall street or corporations which is the world of jeff connoton came of age in and had his career in. >> another man you write about is sam walton. before we look at that clip, who is he, was he? >> a little bit like dean price, sam walton is from a small town in the heartland and had a dream of being a store owner, an owner of chain stores and built walmart into the world's biggest retail empire. he's in the book as a representative of the world of business. and a particular kind of business. which is more and more what
america has become as manufacturing declined. that's partly because walmart pushed prices down to a point where american manufacturers could not meet its demands and walmart, you know, turned to china for its products in american manufacturers outsource their work. so walmart is, you know, is an economy in which wages and prices are low. it's a consumer economy. it's sort of a cheap economy. and it's more and more the economy of small towns around the country like the ones that dean price and sam walton grew up in. dean price tried to make a go of it as an entrepreneur owning truck stops within direct competition with walmart and found he couldn't compete and the big box stores weree essentially laying waste to main streets where dean price grew up.
>> explain this from your book -- and i'll say it and you can correct it if it's not right -- that since walton today are worth 30% of the american people. >> the bottom 30%. >> six waltons, did they participate in building the walmart company? >> they had the great good luck of being his heirs but he built the company. and it's interesting in his story, until his death in 1992, walmart was mainly seen as a great american success story. the guy who started out in bentonville, alaska and became the wealthiest man in america. >> hillary clinton was on his board, you say? >> she feels. and president, governors, and business titans would go to little bentonville to pay homage to sam walton. he was kind of a king but a cheap king who still had a $5 hair cut. and didn't tip the barber. and that was kind of the story of homespun success until he died. then the media coverage of
walmart shifted as if without this folksy hero as its public face, people began to see that walmart was actually killing off the character of all of the small towns putting drugstore owners and shoe store owners on main street out of business. and as dean price once said to me, those weren't just the store ownerns, they were the pillars of the community. they were the little league coaches and the rotary club presidents, city councilmen. they lost their business, the town lost something essential in its foundation. so walmart, without sam walton, began to look more like a sinister turn in the american economy where we had fewer and fewer decent factory jobs and more and more store greasers. there's a family toward the end of the book in tampa which is one of the main locations of the
book whose whole world is dominated by walmart. they're very poor. they buy their pharmaceuticals, their food, clothing, everything atwal mart. the father is trying to support family of four as a produce stocker at $8.50 an hour for 20 hours a week because there's no fulltime work. walmart is like the company that owns them and they can't get out from it even though they resent it. there's something of a dark side in that. >> how did you pick the ten -- oprah winfrey, sam walton, colin powell, alice walters, mark ruben, jay-z, and arthur warren? >> i wanted a representative look at american life. so i needed politics, business, entertainment, food, finance, article art. i was interested in the pattern
that you see with jay-z and sam walton and oprah -- people begin in humble places and are not unlike the main characters, dean, tammy. but who sort of reinvents themselves as something new. and find a new language and a new idea that is riveting to americans. and through that, they build an empire. they can't stop it. it's almost like an imperative with the corporation. you have to keep going even as a person, a brand, you have to keep growing. but essentially a decadence where the language becomes a kind of parody itself and they no longer seem to be producing something good, they are just -- they just continue to produce -- gingrich just keeps writing book after book. oprah is on the cover of every single issue of her magazine. so they become the celebrities that we are now familiar with who are dominated in the
imaginations in the way to replace the institutions that have faltered in this period of time. so i chose them for that reason. but also for a couple of celebrities who i chose because i wanted to show that you can still do good work without being caught up in the mania of celebrity. the short story writer, the short story like the least field of literature, he had a huge influence on riders and on culture and on readers because he just practiced the resilient truthful stories about america in his time. >> he die in 1988. he had a thank you put wows and difficult life. alcoholic. wrote about that quite a bit. the last years of his life he managed to get sober and be very productive. but if you turn to his stories and you open them, start reading -- the fairness of the language, quite haunting.
seems very ordinary. and yet there's something strange about it. what he evokes to me is that in this period that he was sort of writing in the '60s, '70s, '80s, there was a loneliness, an isolation to his character. they're not connected. there's no institutions. politics doesn't exist, foreign countries don't exist. there's just the safe way to the beetle hall. that's what they got. and that loneliness is very apropos i think of the way a lot of americans live today. in my book, most of the characters live alone. >> this is a small item. i read here that we get a couple of months in advance before the book comes out. and missing is the chapter on andrew -- i wanted to know why it was missing from here? >> i ran out of gas. i was racing to make my deadline in december. i was sick. i had two small kids. i found it extremely difficult. i knew he had to be in there because if i'm writing about the undoing of our institutions, media is essential. and brightbart to me is a perfect story of how with old
his story, you know, of coming out of nowhere in l.a. and becoming this sort of major figure in new media seemed like it had to be in the books. >> died of a heart attack at 43? >> yeah, he was quite young, just a few years ago. >> he was adopted. >> yes. >> by a jewish father and christian mother. >> i don't know if the mother was christian? i think they were both jewish. i'm not certain. biologically ancestry he was scottish. he talked about the rise and fall of the golden age of the whole media. born and adopted, walter cronkite is in one out of every five house holds. as a toddler, woodward and bernstein are beginning to dig up the watergate scandal.
but as he comes of age, cable news rises up. talking heads on cable news, shouting heads on cable news, the internet, blogging, twitter, all of this transforms the landscape. and he is sort of perfectly positioned to stride in to this landscape, all of the old "time" magazine, cbs news and say, i am here. you better listen to me. >> what does it mean he was a liberal turned conservative, worked for drug and arianna huffing ton a conservative turned liberal? >> i think what it shows is that the loudest voices and the ones that have sort of gained the most attention are polarizing voices and he could have -- he
could have gone either way. he could have ended up as a raving lefty. what mattered was look at me, listen to me. he knew how to get attention. he had a real flair from digging up scandal and blowing it out of its own bound rip and proportion and get media to pay attention by saying your refusal to pay attention to me proves your bias against my point of view and the media would get spooked and say, yes, withe will cover you. >> how long have you worked for new yorker? >> ten years. >> how many books have you written? >> written two novels and five books of nonfiction, and one play. >> how many copies of "assassin's gate" sold? >> i think it's about 100,000. i'm not sure. i try to avoid knowing too much about my sales because it's so discouraging it might prevent me from writing another book "the
unwinding" is selling well on the best seller's list. but we that is unusual. >> we were talking about jeff connoton earlier, worked for joe biden. here's a clip of him on the morning and this is around the impeachment issue. would he have been work ing? >> he had gone to the clinton white house, the council's office. and then just before impeachment began, he left and became a lawyer and lobbyist. >> here he is at that time. >> if you're going to impeach a president, you have to have a consensus among the public and the mouse members themselves, a bipartisan consensus that there is a strong case for his impeachment. i think it's been clear for
weeks now that there is no such consensus. there certainly isn't that consensus around constitutional scholars, 400 constitutional scholars have written the committee saying even if the president made false statements under oath about a sexual relationship, that does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. >> how much time did you spend with him? >> we had a long correspondence. i had to convince him to let me write his story. he was writing his own story in a book called "the payoff." i went down and stayed with him in savannah for most of the week and spent many hours hearing the story of his life. including that period when he was out of government but really admired clinton. thought clinton was in it for a all of the right reasons and cared for ordinary americans. so he stuck his neck out on cable news and on c-span on behalf of clinton. >> in the end, what does he think about joe biden? as if he hadn't joined the
charmed inner circle that made you a biden loyalist that he was going to lift a finger for you. it showed connoton that in washington there really is something cruelly transactional about relationships. >> one of the things he told you -- the language he uses off camera is rather strong. >> he could be -- he could be rough on his aides, even
humiliating. this is all 25 years ago. this is 25 years ago. something about biden that is interesting in his story is that he's -- something incorruptible about him. he hates raising money. he hates doing favors. for people who have helped him raise money. and so that he -- he won't play the k street game to the extent that his colleagues in the senate were happy to do. he got on the train and went back to wilmington. because he was a fundraiser for biden, it was like co flrks -- connoton was punished for that since he had to raise money for his election.
>> our cameras caught this in 1997. this is not very long and put it in context. >> the other question is -- >> who cares. >> could you quickly -- >> i think i should have a much higher iq than you do, i suspect. i went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship. the first year in law school, i decided i didn't want to be in law school and ended up in the final two thirds of my class. then i went back to law school, went back to the top half of my class. i won the international competition. the outstanding student in the end of the science department. i graduated with three degrees. i would be delighted to sit down and compare my iq to yours if you'd like. >> that was in claremont, new hampshire. >> that was near the end of the biden for president campaign when reporters were starting to
uncover accusations of plagiarism in his campaign speeches and coursework in law school, the misrepresentations about his grades, etc. there you can see biden, you know, full of bluster with the cameras rolling. c-span was there. it was the first time the entire campaign event was filmed. according to connoton, for 89 minutes, biden was brilliant. this is his story. he's a brilliant politician. but the last minute, the person in the kitchen or new hampshire, he said tnt you inflate your grades? then biden attacked him in way that made him look like a bully and blow hard.
there's a mix in biden and there's the inability to control that side of him. >> you quote -- not a quote. but i'll read it. the more money sub captains raised, the more access to biden their captain received. connoton kept track of it. he decided who got a pin or a dinner with biden. if one had to seed biden, he had to donate $1,000. connoton would tell the big-time donors, for $50,000, dinner with the senator at his house. for $25,000, i could get you a dinner with the senator but not in his house. how much of this is new to the unwinding here? >> there's a jeff connoton who has the courage to tell in detail what goes on between the politicians and the people who
raise money for them and the people who give them money. it's an incredibly detailed picture of washington and on the surface, in the media, seems to be tremendous polarization between left and right but really they're joined by money and the need to raise money and by the power of money to shape legislation which is true for the democrats and republicans. i think connoton has honored himself by talking about the way it works. there's always been money in politics. read robert carroll and l.b.j. and how that corrupted him when he was in the house and the senate. i think what began in the late '70s and has gotten bigger and bigger since, that's the period of the book, is how systematic it is. how it pervades everything. how it there's no escape from it. tom harken said a senator has to spend 50% of his free time raising money, just as an astonishing, you know, kind of
week in, week out job alongside the job of being a senator. which is corrupting. >> if you work your ass off for years for him, biden, he ignored you, sometimes humiliated you, took no interest in your advancement and never learned your name. >> that was his experience and according to him, it was the experience of others. not everyone's experience. there were those who bled biden blue. they were loyalists, brought into the inner circle and remained loyal. and many are now in the white house because of that service and that type relationship. connoton didn't get into that inner circle and a lot of people didn't and left biden after a few years.
he didn't create what ted kennedy created, which was a whole core of biden guys who remained tight with him but went on to do other things because biden -- because ken dip realized having someone in the white house and someone in treasury and someone, you know, in the nonprofit world and someone in business was good for his ideas. there wasn't that sense of creating a new generation. >> where did you grow up? >> silicon valley, california. back then, it wasn't, just santa clara family. >> to what kind of a family? >> academic. parents were professors at stanford. my mom, 88, a fiction writer. she writes short stories. my father died when i was 12. he was a law professor. and i grew up in this bookish and political house hold while stanford university along with
the rest of the campuses were sort of blowing up in the late '60s. aware of bigger events and issues from a young age. >> how many children in the family? >> i have a sister who's a novelist. she's a year and half older than me. >> your wife works for the new yorker? >> my wife is a freelance journalist. she's writing a tremendous book i think about iran that's going be the origins of the reform and democracy movement in iran that had an interesting resurgence of the election of the president in that country. she writes for the new yorker from time to time from iran. >> where did you go school? >> went to public school in palo alto. just before proposition 13 -- the tax bill passed in '78. a lot of things in the book happened around '78. i got out of the california public school just in time before they became starved for funds. i went to yale. that was the end of my formal education.
but the rest of my education continues to this day. >> how many years have you worked on this book? you talked about it, trying to get the idea for 2006? >> i really didn't begin reporting until 2010 when i met dean price. i was the first -- the way into the book. and then two years of return visits to north carolina, return visits to youngstown, many visits to tampa, which is the scene of sort of the madness of the housing economy which turned into the housing nightmare a few years ago, visits to silicon valley, there's a lot about that big success story set off against some of these unhappier stories. that took two years and
continued into 2012, but i had to start writing and i wrote it very quick lip. it took nine months in 2012. and it just about killed me. >> how do you go about gathering your information when you interview and sit with others? >> you know, to write about these people in deep intimate ways about their past, childhood, work, families, i had to spend a lot of time just hanging out with them, driving around, driving in dean's old beatup honda as he went from county to county. driving in tammy's pontiac as she took me around her childhood on the east side of youngstown. going out to dinner together. stayed at dean's house. so it wasn't a series of formal interviews so much as it was talking and letting the tape recorder roll and gradually
filling out a picture of their life, not systematically take me through your life from birth to the present. it had to be much more ad hoc and over a long period of time and it took a lot of trust on both sides that this would not backfire, that it would work out for both of us. >> when you're out there researching, who pays for that? >> i paid for most of it because this was not a new yorker project. this was a book. so i paid for my plane tickets to familiar and greensboro. a couple of trips were part of new york ear's stories like the first time i met dean price i was working on a new yorker story but most of it was out of my pocket. >> do you ever have a sense that you ear spending more money than it's worth. >> yeah, and more time and effort. what is this going to add up to? am i going get what i need? i remember coming back from ohio once and telling laura, my wife, you know, i'm not getting her story. it's just not going to work. i went back and kept talking to tammy.
then i began to look at my transcripts once i had finished all of the reporting and realized, i actually have a lot. then it becomes a creative process of shaping its. how do i tell multiple stories, three or four main characters, tampa, silicon valley, the ten celebrity profiles, how do i organize them? i'll begin with dean price. he's the beginning of the book. then break away from him and introduce jeff connoton, tammy thomas. how long can i stay away from dean price before we start to forget about him and then i need to bring him back in.
there were all these structural problems like solving a puzzle. it was fun to do. but it really challenged me to the limit to figure out a forum. there was no template other than a trilogy of novels published 80 years ago by john doe's pasos called usa, one of the favorite works of american literature that gave an idea of how to create a kaleidoscopic picture of america by weaving together the story. >> when did you write the preface. >> right at the end. >> no one can say when the unwinding began, when the coil that held americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. like any great change, the unwinding began in countless times and in countless ways and at some point, the same country crossed the line of history and
became irretrievably different. what are the differences in your own life that you regret? in other words, what did you like in your early years that is gone now? >> i wrote that after finishing the book because the prologue is short. more like the overture because it introduces the character of the images of the book without telling the images of the book without telling too much of what to think. i grew up in a very different california and a different america. it was in many ways less fair, less inclusive. if you were a black american, you were disenfranchised to a large extent. if you were a woman, you were thwarted. if you were gay, you were nonexistent. there was this deal that if you worked hard and if you educated your children, then there would be place for you in society. request i zwau -- where i grew up, public schools were good. the only kids in the private schools were the ones that
screwed up in public schools and were being corrected in private school. silicon valley hadn't created this superclass of sbrer -- entrepreneurs. homelessness was unheard of. it was a more eagletarian place, more security. even if you were a nobody, you were holding down a job, there's some recognition you were doing something valuable. not disposable. not to be discarded if you haven't heard of you or we don't have a lot of money. the america we live in is much more unequal and stratified place where it's hard if you're born in the wrong place to move up. harder than it was then. we think of ourselves as a fluid society. we're more stratified, more of a class society.
a real loss, because that mobility is what justified our free wheeling capitalism. now we have free wheeling capitalism but people are stuck in place to a large extent. so i regret the passing of a lot of those things. >> you start with the year 1978 in your book and you list nine different years where you put headlines in there to describe the years. in your opinion, what are the major happenings changing in the last 30, 40 years. >> the industrialization, the loss of blue collar jobs that lay waste to a lot of cities and towns across the country. >> brought along because of what? >> global competition, technological change, outsourcing and offshoring. and the willingness of companies to do it. because germany has had the same -- they live in the same age of globalization without
losing its manufacturing base, without sort of undermining the standard of living of its middle class. because they made some policy decisions to hold on to some of those jobs and we have allowed it to happen in a much more sort of open way which means some people got very wealthy especially through financial services. >> what impact did they have on it? >> watergate had on it. >> the same, the same. >> you supported it. >> yeah. >> do you still do? >> i spent enough time there, saw enough of it, know enough to think that war was a disaster for us and maybe for the iraqis. right now things look grim. iraq is returning to civil war because of the spill overperiod. anyone who wants to point to any gains beyond the ridding of the world from the world of saddam
hussein is almost impossible to say there's a gain. >> in your book, of all of the things that you write about and the characters you write about, which one had the biggest impact on you? >> dean and tammy. both from, you know, tougher backgrounds than i had. both face greater obstacles than i do. and both have far from quitting have kind of kept coming back in new ways and found new ways to remake their lives just when it seemed as if everything was turning dark. i mean, tammy's fiance was shot and killed. she lost most of her pensions just before retirement. she faced all kinds of economic adversity, dean's father committed suicide after being a
sort of a failed fire and brimstone preacher. dean went bankrupt, as i said. and yet they both still remain invest in the american dream. whether or not it remains invested in them. that's the question -- is there still a place in america for people like that. >> would you use the word "exceptional" in a description of the united states? >> i might have once. but i think we need to come to a more modest appraisal. we're looking at a trimming of our sail, a slimming down of our power and influence in the world. we need to create a better society here. we expended all of this wealth and power abroad in iraq and afghanistan, while hollowing out here at home.
our institutions were getting sick and declining. a lot of places i've been, people say there is no middle class. just rich and poor. that's not the america i want to live in. >> george packer's book has been called the unwinding. an inner history of the new america. thank you very much. >> thank you. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2012] 3] for a dvd copy of this 662-7726.all 1877- for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this
qanda.org.sit us at >> up next, is "washington phonel" live with your calls. harry reid discussing proposed changes to senate rules. >> earlier someone touched upon the idea that women could not really predict their role in entering into the white house. i did find one political observer who commented on the election that mary started with mr. lincoln when he was a poor young man and with no more idea of being called to the presidency than being called a
cannibal. however, i try to lay out in my book an educated guess that he would not have let a little thing like human sacrifice, between her and her goal because she was a very determined woman. she did talk about mr. lincoln's role perhaps of entering the white house. she was someone who was a true political partner. >> we will hear from historians and authors, including patricia brady and kathrin clinton about the role of the first lady and how it has changed along with the nation tonight at 9:00 eastern. journal" ashington with your phone calls. iohit chopra. gerard willjack talk about the u.s. energy
policy in the debate of the keystone pipeline. then the special inspector general for afghanistan discusses his latest report concerning afghanistan reconstruction efforts. host: good morning everyone. all 100 senators have been invited to a closed-door meeting in the old senate chamber this meeting to discuss the so-called nuclear option. harry reid wants to change senate rules to allow a simple majority vote on nonjudicial nominees, rather than the current 60 vote threshold. 10:30 a.m. eastern time here on c-span. we will begin on the "washington journal closed quote with the